How to Relieve Back Pain, and What Is Causing It?

A “backache” or back pain is one of the most common complaints of sensitivity, which most of us suffer from at some point in our lives. Pain can exist in any part of the back: the upper back, which includes the neck and shoulder area; the middle back; the lower back; or the tail bone. It can be sudden (acute) or long-lasting (chronic); intermittent or constant; limited to one area or can radiate to other parts. It may be accompanied with tingling or numbness of the extremities.

While patients of every age suffer (and wonder how they can relieve) back pain, it primarily affects adults over the age of 30.

Some of the most general causes of back pain are:

  • Strained muscles or ligaments
  • Incorrect posture while standing or walking
  • Strenuous physical exertion
  • Stress related pain
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Injury

Other causes are related to structural problems of the back:

  • Disc Pain: A ruptured, bulging, or slipping disc can lead to severe backaches and can pinch the spinal nerves, causing radiating pain to other parts of the body.
  • Arthritis: Located in the bones of the spine, the back, or the hip, arthritis can lead to severe backaches.

  • Scoliosis: If the spine begins to curve in an abnormal way it can cause backaches.

  • Osteoporosis: This can make bones weak bones lead to easy fractures.

  • Tuberculosis: In the spine, this disease can cause back pain, especially in immune-suppressed patients.

  • Cancer: Tumors of the back can cause pain if the tumor compresses onto a nerve.

  • Shingles/ Herpes: If located along the nerves of the back, these ailments can cause severe burning backaches.

In cases of functional back pain (where no structural changes have occurred), the physician diagnoses it by assessing the patient’s history and conducting a physical examination. If the physician suspects there are some structural problems, they may request an X-ray, MRI or CT-scan, bone scan or EMG (electromyography) to aid the diagnosis. More investigation may be requested when other serious conditions are present. 

In majority of cases, back pain relief and healing can be obtained with rest, hot fomentation and occasional use of painkillers and/or muscle relaxants. In certain cases, the physician may advise use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain and inflammation.
Physiotherapy also includes application of hot/cold therapies, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and muscle relaxation and strengthening techniques. Surgery is a choice of treatment only in cases where there are structural changes causing nerve pinching such as disc herniation, slipped disc, or fractured vertebrae.

Regular exercise helps relieve back pain by strengthening the back muscles and ligaments in addition to keeping body weight under control. Exercise also helps improve flexibility. Correct body posture while standing, sitting, and walking helps prevent back pain recurrence. When lifting things, patients should carefully bend at the knees instead of bending at the back to reduce the pressure on the back muscles. At times, incorrect mattresses can also cause backaches; a firm mattress that keeps the spine straight can also help relieve back pain.

Image courtesy of Ambro /

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